There seem to be a lot of questions about whether or not big aggressive fish like northern pike and musky and whether they are dangerous to people or not. While they are delicious, and put up a great fight, do muskies ever attack people in the water?
While musky attacks are really quite rare, they do happen. This usually takes place because a musky mistakes a hand or foot for prey then lets go once they realize they don’t have lunch. This should not be a normal cause of concern.
That said, there are a few things we can look at to learn more about known (or heavily suspected) musky attacks.
Looking at When a Musky Attacks a Person
There are usually a few things in common when a musky attack happens. The person is usually a child or young adult, there’s usually a loose hand or foot in the water, and the injuries are usually relatively minor (though there are some very notable exceptions).
Here are a few examples of times where a hungry, confused, or aggressive musky ended up biting off more than it could chew.
Musky Attacks Person Story 1: Island Lake, Minnesota 2017
This is one of the more serious musky attacks that is on record. Maren Kesselhon, an 11 year old, was playing on a paddleboard on the lake when she started screaming in pain.
While the fish wasn’t seen, based on bite patterns and location, it was assumed a huge muskie bit down on her foot and lower leg while she was on a paddleboard.
This was a major bite, and the fish let go once it realized it didn’t have prey, but the injuries required a ton of stitches on over 25 lacerations and surgery to repair ligament and tendon damage.
Twin Cities Pioneer Press Paper covered the full story – wishing her a full and happy recovery (WARNING: some graphic injury pictures)!
Musky Attacks Person Story 2: Island Lake, Minnesota 2017
Paige Dougherty was the second unlikely victim of the extremely rare musky attack in 2017 – and in the same lake as the first one! This time a witness saw the fish lurching out of the water, probably attracted by an ankle bracelet that included a shiny dangling bit of jewelry.
This probably confused the fish into thinking it was bait, much like some fishing lures, and that shininess caught the fish’s attention, leading to a nasty bite.
Note that there is a picture of the injury in the link to the story below, there is blood visible.
Twin Cities Pioneer Press Paper covers this unlikely occurrence, as well!
Musky Attacks Person Story 3: Pomme de Terre Lake, Missouri 2020
A kayak fisherman trying his luck with bass had a very unexpected run in with a muskie. Stocked in the lake for several decades at this point (they are otherwise not native to the area), bass angler Zach Reynolds dipped his bare feet off the kayak into the water to cool them down.
Then came the pain. Something big slammed into his foot, causing severe pain. According to witnesses he shouted and pulled a bloody foot out of the water.
He saw a large 30+ inch muskie retreating into the weeds. The stitches required on the foot lacerations match the idea that it was a large muskie that slammed into his leg.
A witness, in the understated focus that only a lifetime muskie angler could have, commented on how many fishermen spend thousands of casts trying to get a musky to bite, and he gets one from cooling his feet off.
Though I’m sure he could have done without the hospital bills 🙂
Musky Attacks Person Story 4: Kenora International Bass Fishing Tournament 2012
What is it with bass anglers getting bit by muskie while they are reeling a bass in?
There does seem to be a bit of a pattern here. At the 2012 Kenora International Bass Fishing Tournament angler Jon Olson placed a respectable 10th in the tournament, but that wasn’t the big story.
While his foot was hanging in the water he felt a sharp tug, pulled his leg up, and saw a muskie nearly three feet long and just short of 20 lbs that was pulled right of the water when he lifted his foot.
The bite wasn’t as severe as some other musky-angler related injuries, but that’s a painful nip that Jon isn’t likely to forget!
Musky Attacks Person Story 5: Minaki, Ontario Canada 2020
Of course 2020 would have at least one musky attack. All joking aside, this was one of the most bizzare recorded musky attacks as it’s the only one on record where the aggressiveness continued after the first second or two once the fish should have realized it grabbed something bigger than it.
This is a bit alarming, and it is definitely really weird/unusual. Muskies love to eat, but they aren’t interested in fighting or being aggressive once it’s clear there’s no food to be had.
Kim Driver, was swimming in northern Ontario when a musky grabbed her leg and attacked aggressively. This was in chest deep water in the lake and she actively had to fight and kick to get it loose after it briefly submerged her.
Extensive surgery was needed to repair the damage on the foot and lower leg, including some plastic surgery.
A weird and scary musky attack incident.
Full story can be found HERE.
So Should You Worry About Muskie Attacks on Humans?
The short, easy, and quick answer on this is no. Musky attacks are so rare, thy are never fatal, and although the worst injuries are quite severe (and require surgery to fix), most are relatively low on the danger chart.
Of course if you’re in Island Lake, Minnesota, maybe think twice about sticking your feet off the dock 🙂
Musky attacks are very rare, especially considering how often people are fishing, swimming, or otherwise playing in the water. This is usually due to the poor vision of the musky who strikes, then once it realizes it can’t swallow the leg or arm whole, lets go.
While you definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of a painful musky attack, it’s not going to be fatal and it is going to be incredibly rare.